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September 19, 2018 

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RESOURCE ALLOCATION: The process of dividing up and distributing available, limited resources to competing, alternative uses that satisfy unlimited wants and needs. Given that world is rampant with scarcity (unlimited wants and needs, but limited resources), every want and need cannot be satisfied with available resources. Choices have to be made. Some wants and needs are satisfied, some are not. These choices, these decisions are the resource allocation process. An efficient resource allocation exists if society has achieved the highest possible level of satisfaction of wants and needs from the available resources AND resources can not be allocated differently to achieve any greater satisfaction.

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RETURNS TO SCALE:

Changes in production the occur when all resources are proportionately changed in the long run. Returns to scale come in three forms--increasing, decreasing, or constant based on whether the changes in production are proportionally more than, less than, or equal to the proportional changes in inputs. Returns to scale are the guiding principle for long-run production, playing a similar role that the law of diminishing marginal returns plays for short-run production.
Returns to scale answer the question: If labor, capital, and other inputs ALL increase by the same proportion (say 10 percent) does output increase by more than, less than, or equal to this proportion (more than 10 percent, less than 10 percent, or exactly 10 percent)? The answer indicates that returns to scale can take one of three forms: increasing returns to scale, decreasing returns to scale, and constant returns to scale.
  • Increasing Returns to Scale: This occurs if a proportional increase in all inputs under the control of a firm results in a greater than proportional increase in production. In other words, a 10 percent increase in labor, capital, and other inputs, results in a production increase that is greater than 10 percent.

  • Decreasing Returns to Scale: This occurs if a proportional increase in all inputs under the control of a firm results in a less than proportional increase in production. In other words, a 10 percent increase in labor, capital, and other inputs, results in a production increase that is less than 10 percent.

  • Constant Returns to Scale: This occurs if a proportional increase in all inputs under the control of a firm results in an equal proportional increase in production. In other words, a 10 percent increase in labor, capital, and other inputs, results in an equal 10 percent increase in production.

Long-Run Stuffed Amigo Production

Suppose, for example, that The Wacky Willy Company employs 1,000 workers in a 5,000 square foot factory to produce 1 million Stuffed Amigos (those cute and cuddly armadillos, tarantulas, and lizards) each month. Returns to scale indicate what happens to production if the scale of operation expands to 2,000 workers in a 10,000 square foot factory--a doubling of the inputs.

If production increases to exactly 2 million Stuffed Amigos, twice the original quantity, then The Wacky Willy Company has constant returns to scale. If production increases by more than 2 million Stuffed Amigos, then The Wacky Willy Company has increasing returns to scale. And if production increases by less than 2 million Stuffed Amigos, then The Wacky Willy Company has decreasing returns to scale.

Economies and Diseconomies of Scale

Returns to scale are the flip slide of economies of scale and diseconomies of scale. However, whereas economies and diseconomies of scale focus on cost, returns to scale focus on production.
  • Economies of scale indicate that long-run average cost decreases, which corresponds to increasing returns to scale in terms of production.

  • Diseconomies of scale indicate that long-run average cost increases, which corresponds to decreasing returns to scale in terms of output.

  • Constant returns to scale for production terms results when long-run average cost neither increases nor decreases.
The anticipated pattern for most production activities is that increasing returns to scale emerge for relatively small levels of production, which is then following be constant returns to scale and finally decreasing returns to scale. This pattern is represented by a U-shaped long-run average cost curve.

NOT Marginal Returns

Do not confuse increasing and decreasing returns to scale with increasing and decreasing marginal returns. While these phrases sound similar, they are quite different.

Increasing and decreasing returns to scale relate to the long run in which all inputs under the control of the firm are variable. Increasing and decreasing marginal returns related to the short run in which one or more input is variable and one or more input is fixed.

The existence of fixed inputs in the short run gives rise to increasing and decreasing marginal returns. In particular, decreasing marginal returns result because the capacity of the fixed input or inputs is being reached. However, in the long run, there are no fixed inputs, so no capacity constraint, so no marginal returns.

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Recommended Citation:

RETURNS TO SCALE, AmosWEB Encyclonomic WEB*pedia, http://www.AmosWEB.com, AmosWEB LLC, 2000-2018. [Accessed: September 19, 2018].


Check Out These Related Terms...

     | long-run production analysis | increasing returns to scale | decreasing returns to scale | constant returns to scale | long-run, microeconomics |


Or For A Little Background...

     | short-run production analysis | production inputs | production time periods | product | production | production cost | variables | labor | capital | law of supply | supply | principle | business | marginal analysis | factors of production | microeconomics |


And For Further Study...

     | total product | marginal product | average product | production function | price elasticity of supply | division of labor | production possibilities | law of increasing opportunity cost | law of diminishing marginal returns | marginal returns | production stages | very long-run, microeconomics | economies of scale | diseconomies of scale | long-run average cost |


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